The first fears I thought I would have to face were checking in at the airport, and then the flight itself. But don’t I feel like a wally for ever fearing those breezy experiences.
I went straight to the check in desk with my passport and checked the hell in. Sure I had to wait 10 minutes while they sent my passport off to somewhere unknown, and I was asked what my reason for visiting was, to which I was told it’s not really a place for tourism at the moment, but overall it was a pleasant and easy experience.
There weren’t men standing in line staring me like I presumptuously assumed there would be, just nice Afghan ladies with their families, smiling at me. And the plane experience wasn’t full of turbulence and testosterone either; it was full of creamy chicken, a nice nap, and some of the nicest airline crew I’ve ever come across. (I highly rate Safi Airways.) The mix of men and women on the flight didn’t give two hoots that I was there. If anything I could see the consuming curiosity in some of their eyes, but both them and me were too shy to talk about it – something I will regret for a long time, particularly not chatting to the hotty sitting next to me.
p.s. Afghan men are HOT
Once I touched down things got a little less comfortable, but not too bad. At Kabul airport, safety is first and foremost priority, which is reassuring, but it’s only a small airport so the series of check points causes people to turn into impatient and pushy sardines. I had one lady behind me who kept ramming her trolley into my legs and bag. I don’t know if she hated me or had a terrible perception of space, but she put me on edge, which was the last thing I really needed at this point.
Once I managed to lug my stupidly heavy bag out of the airport I was out in the open and free to face my next problem. How was I to find the local friend (who I had never met) who was picking me up?
I stood out the front trying to figure out the instructions I’d been given, only to be pestered by my next source of anxiety; a man trying to get me into his old, battered, empty bus. Mate, no one is getting on your bus, why do you think I’m going to?
Eventually that was all too much for me, so I put my backpack on and just followed the crowd. I was looking for Parking C, and when I made it to the first parking lot I asked someone if I was in Parking C and they said yes. Of course I believed them and waited patiently… like a big blonde sore thumb.
As time started to pass, there was no sign of my ride and I eventually had to ask to use someone’s phone which resulted in me finding out I was in Parking B.
As I entered the next lot, there was a moment where I was walking alone towards a large group of people. ALL EYEZ ON ME. But by this point, because I knew I was about to find the safety of my ride, I was feeling quite excited about the prospect of being in Kabul and I actually couldn’t stop smiling. Everyone stared and it just made me grin uncontrollably because I didn’t know what else to do. As I made eye contact with a few people, it encouraged them to grin back, and it all felt very silly really.
I found my lift, a very kind and gentle man who a friend of a friend had put me in contact with. He drove me through the streets of Kabul to the place I was staying, and as we chatted I watched and absorbed the streets of this place I’d been curious about since September 11.
On almost every corner, outside doors, entrances and gates, on the back of trucks and crossing the streets – I saw men with guns. They just blended in with everything else that was going on; big aggressive-looking guns on the shoulders of serious-looking men.
People operate their day-to-day lives around them, because what else can they do? The city is trying so hard to hold on to its loose grip on the security situation. There is a constant threat of terrorism so the men with guns are accepted as the only blanket of safety people have really.
What surprised me the most though was not the guns (because I knew they were there, it was just striking to see in real life), but the people and the other happenings on the streets. The bright lights and colours of shops, restaurants, juice bars (there are bars with alcohol too) and hotels; the hustle of Kabul bustled with way more liveliness than I imagined it to. Women strolled alone wearing loose headscarves, kids walked along chatting and drinking pomegranate juice, men sold colourful balloons to pedestrians, traffic was a complete nightmare as locals battled it to get home from work and to their families.
My first impressions of Kabul blew me away. Don’t even get me started on all the other impressions so far. The hospitality, kindness and openminded-ness of the people I have met is extraordinary. Their outlook on life and Afghan culture, the security situation and government, and the way they socialise… I’ve been heart-warmingly surprised. I look forward to sharing this with you in my next post.